Fall is just around the corner, and that means the leaves will be changing! Here's a complete guide to enjoying Fall colors across this beautiful state.
What makes the leaves change Color?
Yes Billy Madison fans, chlorophyll is the reason!
During the Fall, the days grow shorter and the air grows colder. Shorter days lead to a breakdown in chlorophyll, which turns the leaves from green to red, yellow, and orange. Cold temperatures at night have very little affect on when the leaves turn, but how bright and vibrant their colors become.
When are the peak times to see the colors?
Leaf peepers, here are the average dates for peak Fall colors across Colorado! The leaves start to change color first in mid-September across the northern mountains, and slowly spread down the state through the middle of October.
Coming off the heavy snow year like we did, the trees are healthy and we should stick to these time frames pretty well. All we need is some cold nights to really get the leaf colors popping.
Short Drives: Best Fall color locations in southern Colorado Want to see Fall colors but don't want to drive very far? Here are the best fall color drives right here in southern Colorado.
Quail Lake in Colorado Springs
This is about the shortest drive for Fall foliage you're going to get, but it's incredibly beautiful! Quail Lake is located on the south side of Colorado Springs, just a few miles south of downtown. You'll see a sprawling view of the mountains from the east side of the lake, a walking path that circles around the lake, and a dock if you want to do a little kayaking.
Highway 67 between Divide & Cripple Creek
This is another close and accessible route for Fall colors if you live in the Pikes Peak Region. Just take highway 24 out west of Woodland Park and turn south on highway 67 when you reach the town of Divide. There are many pull off locations for pictures, and you can grab lunch or place a bet in Cripple Creek before you head home!
Mueller State Park
Located south on highway 67 just a few miles past Divide, Mueller State Park is the perfect place to pull over for a picnic with a view! With over 5,000 acres to explore, you'll get amazing views of Fall foliage, the back side of Pikes Peak, and hike-able scenic overlooks.
Gold Camp Road
The name says it all, as long as you have the right car for the job! Located just west of Colorado Springs, Gold Camp Road boasts beautiful Autumn colors on a rugged ride through the mountains and under several tunnels. The best way to get there is to take Old Stage Road and follow it until you connect to Gold Camp Road. All wheel or 4 wheel drive is HIGHLY recommended!
Highway 165 between Rye & McKenzie Junction
A longtime favorite of Lead Forecaster Mike Daniels, this gorgeous drive is especially close if you live in Pueblo. Once you get to Rye, follow highway 165 northwest through the Wet Mountains to McKenzie Junction. You'll see amazing Aspen groves as you approach San Isabel and if you have the time, you can stop and explore Bishop Castle!
One of the last spots we recommend right here in southern Colorado is Cucharas Pass! This pass will take you through the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, just behind the beautiful Spanish Peaks. Cucharas Pass is typically one of the last places the leaves turn in Colorado, so if you've missed the color change out west, just drive south!
Long Drives: Best Fall color views out west across the mountains Up for a road trip? Here are some of Colorado's most breathtaking and popular Fall color destinations deeper into the Rockies.
Standing in front of a glacial carved valley, surrounded by National Forest Land and several 14,000 foot mountains, the Maroon Bells are the most photographed peaks in all of North America. Due to the popularity of the Bells, it's highly recommended to visit during the week and use the bus service from Aspen, The road to the Bells for personal vehicles is often closed from overcrowding or a lack of parking.
Located about 15 minutes west of Crested Butte, Kebler Pass needs to be at the top of your bucket list when searching for Fall foliage in Colorado. The pass is regarded as one of the best places in the state to view vibrant yellow Aspen trees, with a summit around 10,000 feet. The road is accessible for all vehicle types and there are many pull over spots for camping, hiking, and biking.
Cottonwood Pass is a high mountain pass in south-central Colorado, about 40 minutes west of Buena Vista. With a summit of 12,126 feet, Cottonwood Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in Colorado and provides sweeping views of Aspen and Cottonwood trees against the Rockies. If you have a little time and shoes you're not afraid to get muddy, you can take the short 2.5 mile round-trip hike from the pass to Lost Lake.
If you're going to drive to Aspen, Independence Pass is the way to go! The mountain pass rides over the Continental Divide between Leadville and Aspen with a summit just over 12,000 feet. With this drive you'll get stunning mountain valley views, and plenty of Aspen groves. If you have a little time, stop see the famous cliff jumping spot, The Devils Punchbowl! A word of caution, if you're prone to car sickness, Independence Pass is very long and winding with several narrow sections.
If you know someone in Denver that wants to see Fall foliage but don't want to travel super far, Kenosha Pass is the spot to recommend. Located about 1 hour and 20 minutes southwest of Denver, or 25 minutes northeast of Fairplay (South Park), Kenosha Pass is a must for Aspen tree chasers. You will get amazing, panoramic views from the road, along with several spots to hike into the Aspen groves themselves.
Boreas Pass is a mountain pass around 10 miles or 30 minutes southeast of the town of Breckenridge. This mountain pass will give you stunning views of green, yellow, and orange trees against a backdrop of the central Rockies. While this drive is possible in most vehicle types, something with high clearance or at least all wheel drive is recommended. Go early to beat the crowds, and grab lunch in Breck when you're done!
The Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is the perfect way to see panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains streaked with green and yellow from Evergreens and Aspens! Guanella Pass is a high mountain pass in central Colorado, about 25 minutes south of historic Georgetown. Aside from beautiful Fall colors, you'll also get a nice view of Colorado's most popular 14er, Mount Bierstadt. If you have a little extra time, book a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad!
Owl Creek Pass
Owl Creek Pass is a beautiful high mountain past deep in the San Juan mountains, around 40 minutes southeast of Ridgway State Park. You'll see a variety of colors from deep greens, to bright yellows, and vibrant oranges, stretched across the Rockies. Owl Creek Pass is famous for being the site where John Wayne and Robert Duvall faced down in the classic western, True Grit. It'll make for a long day, but if you have the time, Telluride is only 1.5 hours away!
Rocky Mountain National Park
We couldn't write a story about Fall colors in Colorado and not include Rocky Mountain National Park! Pretty much anywhere you visit in the park, you're guaranteed to see classic Colorado Fall colors, and even some elk! A few recommended spots in the park are Bear Lake Road, Glacier Gorge Trail, and Grand Lake. When you're done in the park, go back into Estes Park to see the Stanley Hotel, and get some ice cream or taffy downtown!
Once a bright and profitable mining town producing millions of dollars in gold, St. Elmo is now picturesque ghost town located 35 minutes southwest of Buena Vista. The town might be dead, but the scenery certainly is not! You'll see beautiful, bright shades of yellow, orange, and red in and surrounding the ghost town.
Share your pics with us!
We would love to see your best Colorado Fall color photos here at KOAA! The best way is to post them to our KOAA Facebook Page, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org